The prophet Amos was an ordinary man that God used to deliver a universal message of judgment to all the inhabitants of the land promised to Abraham. Unlike Isaiah who had a formal role in the kingdom of Judah, Amos worked for a living as a sheepmaster. Although Amos was probably uneducated, he spoke eloquently, perhaps a sign that the words he spoke came directly from God.
Amos used the same phrase to introduce each of the eight judgments he pronounced. “For three transgressions…and four, I will not turn away the punishment thereof” (Amos 1:3). The Hebrew word translated transgression, pesha’ means a revolt (7588). “Basically, this noun signifies willful deviation from, and therefore rebellion against, the path of godly living.” Amos’ reference to three transgressions, and four that they would be punished for indicated there was a repeated or habitual tendency that remained unchanged.
Amos’ testimony of God’s judgment on the nations revealed that all were guilty and deserved punishment. No one, including Israel and Judah, had met God’s expectations of a peaceful co-existence. Much like Jacob’s family, the conflict was continual and bitter dissention kept the nations divided. Among the list of offenders were enemies that had plagued Israel since they had arrived in the Promised Land; Damascus, the capital of Syria; the Philistine territory of Gaza; Tyrus and Edom; Ammon and Moab, who were the descendants of Lot.
Prominent in the description of eight judgments was the failure of Israel to conform to God’s standards. Amos’ indictment stated, “Because they sold the righteous for silver, and the poor for a pair of shoes; that pant after the dust of the earth on the head of the poor, and turn aside the way of the meek: and a man and his father will go into the same maid, to profane my holy name” (Amos 2:6-7). God wanted his people to reflect his character, but instead they resembled the heathen who were cruel and oppressive, and eager to take advantage of those who couldn’t defend themselves.
Israel’s powerful army had enabled them to withstand numerous attacks by the Syrians. Because they had come to rely on their military skill rather than God’s protection and defense, their punishment would be an overwhelming defeat by the king of Assyria:
Therefore the flight shall perish from the swift, and the strong shall not strengthen his force, neither shall the mighty deliver himself: neither shall he stand that handleth the bow; and he that is swift of foot shall not deliver himself, and he that is courageous among the mighty shall flee away naked in that day; saith the LORD. (Amos 2:14-16)